Checking In On… the Sun Belt ConferencePosted by dnspewak on February 24th, 2012
Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for Sun Belt Conference. You can find him Twitter @dspewak.
The Week That Was
- Surprise, surprise: Middle Tennessee is your East Division champion. Reeling off four straight victories after that lone loss at Denver on national television earlier this month, the Blue Raiders tallied 30 assists in a 94-61 win at Louisiana-Monroe on Thursday night. That’s downright unheard of. They also made 10 three-pointers and allowed 15 players to appear in the game. Kudos to Kermit Davis for sharing the love.
- It’s official: Ray Harper is no longer an interim head coach at Western Kentucky– he got the full-time gig. The move adds a little stability to an increasingly unstable program in Bowling Green after the rocky tenure of previous head coach Ken McDonald. Harper, who served as an assistant on McDonald’s staff, won two national championships as a head coach in the Division II ranks. His team has responded relatively well to him, despite youth and major adversity.
- Middle Tennessee (25-4, 14-1): With a top-40 RPI and a decent computer profile, the Blue Raiders could actually sneak into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large. Kermit Davis certainly won’t want to bank on that, though especially since Middle Tennessee lacks that elusive signature victory. As a biased observer of the Sun Belt, it’s clear this team belongs in the Big Dance. Watch these guys play for 10 minutes and you’ll understand that. Unfortunately, the selection committee needs to be able to quantify success, and a few wins over Loyola Marymount, UCLA, Belmont, and Mississippi won’t get the job done. This is all a pointless debate if the Blue Raiders take care of business in Hot Springs though.
- South Alabama (16-10, 8-7): Here come the Jaguars: with six victories in their last seven games, they have locked up the two-seed in the East Division. South Alabama completed a sweep of Florida Atlantic by edging the preseason favorites in overtime on Thursday, a symbolic victory in more ways than one. If you are looking for a trendy upset pick in the Sun Belt Tournament, here’s your team.
- Florida Atlantic (11-17, 7-8): The disaster scenario continues for Mike Jarvis. FAU has now lost three straight games after what looked like a mid-season turn-around. Alas, the Owls are now in danger of missing the postseason entirely barring a miracle in Hot Springs. That’s quite a fall for this program. Before the season, we were talking about at-large chances for Florida Atlantic. Yeah, that was a long time ago.
- Western Kentucky (10-18, 6-9): With Ray Harper at the helm, this team has played with a new kind of energy on both ends of the floor. On Thursday, a T.J. Price buzzer-beater gave the Hilltoppers a three-point win over Arkansas State, helping them overcome an enormous disadvantage on the boards. At this point, Harper has to be evaluating these youngsters for next season. Emerging star Derrick Gordon is starting to play better, especially during the past two games scoring 29 points and collecting 21 rebounds.
- Troy (9-17, 4-11): Still uncharacteristically struggling on the offensive end — especially for a Don Maestri team — Troy cannot find a consistent touch from beyond the arc. That was especially unfortunate last weekend, when the Trojans shot 6-20 in their final home game at Sartain Hall. And not the final game in that building this year. Like, ever. They’re closing the 50-year-old building down in favor of the brand-new Trojan Arena, which will make its debut in the fall.
- Florida International (7-20, 4-11): A year after losing more close games than any team in recent memory in college basketball, Florida International still can’t learn to finish. The Golden Panthers fell in overtime to Troy on Thursday, the fifth-straight loss for Isiah Thomas and company.
- UALR (14-15, 11-4): With a chance to move above .500 and, most importantly, lock up the outright West Division title, the Trojans dropped a home game in overtime to North Texas on Thursday. They still simply need to win on Saturday at home against Arkansas State to win this division, but that loss has to sting for Steve Shields. His team let Tony Mitchell beat it with a double-double, but it also let sophomore Alzee Williams explode for 25 points.
- Denver (20-8, 10-5): We said for months and months that Chris Udofia would break out this season. Honestly, it wasn’t a difficult choice. Udofia has proven all of us correct by exploding this year, especially lately. He’s now the leading scorer for Denver, shooting a blistering 54% from the field. That has helped the Pioneers win four of five and at least have a shot at the West title this weekend.
- Louisiana (16-13, 10-5): Even with all of J.J. Thomas‘ issues this year, Kadeem Coleby has stepped up big to replace that production up front. We heard rumblings he’d be an impact player from the JuCo ranks, and he hasn’t disappointed. Never count out Bob Marlin come tournament time — this is a team that could easily make a run next week.
- North Texas (16-12, 9-6): Where in the world has Alzee Williams come from? With Chris Jones and Jordan Williams out, Alzee Williams has scored in double-figures in six straight games. It’s an inspiring performance for a team that needs another option behind Tony Mitchell, who’s still lighting up the Sun Belt on a nightly basis.
- Arkansas State (12-16, 6-9): John Brady said he would like to see his team defend better, but at least it’s showing signs of life. Before a loss Thursday night, the Red Wolves played solid basketball in two double-digit home victories over Troy and FIU. No, they’re not going to hang a banner yet for that accomplishment, but so what? It’s been a long year, and this team deserves to feel good about something.
- Louisiana-Monroe (2-26, 1-4): Ineligible for the postseason, ULM will play its final game of the season at Louisiana on Saturday. Like Arkansas State, it’s been a long year. In Thursday’s loss to Middle Tennessee, the Warhawks turned the ball over 17 times and allowed MTSU to shoot 58 percent from the field.
Caught on Film
It’s got to be nice for Ray Harper to know he’s the man in Bowling Green, Ky. now. Watch Western Kentucky officially introduce him here: